Topps

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I wrote this on my old Shysterball blog back in 2007. Sorry for the re-run, but (a) it’s Christmas and I have better things to be doing this morning than blogging; and (b) only a handful of people read Shysterball back in the day, so I’m sure most of you haven’t seen this anyway.  Either way, I think it holds up.  Merry Christmas, everyone.

 

My brother lives in San Diego and I live in Ohio, so I maybe see him twice a year. It’s been that way since he left home for the Navy the day after Thanksgiving eighteen years ago. I was sixteen then. I finished my last two years of high school, went on to college and law school, got married, had kids, and settled down in the Midwest. He spent six years on an Aegis cruiser, a couple more at Coronado, and took his discharge in 1997. Since then he has worked as a club DJ, dipped a toe in and then back out of the goth scene, spent time with a number of shady women before meeting a nice one, played Kato Kaelin to the lead singer of a notable synth-pop band, and most recently has performed product preparation and distribution services for a large Irvine, California-based concern. That’s him in the picture to the right, taken when we crashed the club level restaurant at Petco Park back in 2007.

In terms of distance, Curt and I haven’t lived within 500 miles of one another since he left home. By all other measures we haven’t been in the same solar system since then. We get along just fine and talk on the phone regularly, but if we weren’t brothers our adult paths would probably never cross. We live in wildly different worlds, speak wildly different languages, and pass the time doing wildly different things. I love him unconditionally, but we tend to get on each others’ nerves from time to time, and neither of us truly understands where in the hell the other is coming from.

But it wasn’t always that way. We were close as kids, with a lot of common interests, the most notable among them being baseball. We were both huge Tigers’ fans (his favorite player was Lou Whitaker; mine was Alan Trammell). We played on little league teams together for a while (he being the talented but uninterested one, I the exact opposite). But more than watching or playing the game itself, it was our love of baseball cards that brought us together as kids.

It started with the cutouts on the back of Hostess boxes in 1976 or 1977, and moved on to the Kellogg’s 3-D superstars a year or two later. In those days Dad worked with a guy who split his time as a card dealer, and once he saw how crazy we were about the things, cards just started showing up around the house. We’d go over to his house and trade for some. Or we’d buy some from him at highly discounted rates. I suspect a lot of them were just given to us per some arrangement between Lloyd and my dad. Between that kind of thing and the traditional spend-every-penny-we-ever-saw-on-wax-packs approach, by the mid-80s we had tens of thousands of cards spilling out of boxes in every spare corner of the house.

As is the case with just about every kid, however, our interest in cards waned as our interest in girls waxed. Even if it hadn’t, the hyper-commercialization of baseball cards in the late 80s would have done it anyway (we hoarded, sorted, traded, and oggled cards like mad, but I can’t recall a single instance in which we ever sold one). By the time Curt shipped out, they had been placed in plastic sheets or monster boxes in the basement and, while not forgotten, certainly not thought about all that much. Over the years, as my parents’ addresses became increasingly erratic and mine more permanent, the cards migrated to my basement where they currently sit and are rarely disturbed. In the past couple of years Curt has asked me to ship him certain cards from our communal stash as he began dabbling in hockey cards and was in need of trade bait, but other than that I’ve had no real cause to go through them. Hell, the last inventory of them was typed up using the Speedscript word processor on my Commodore 64.

Last week, Curt flew in from San Diego for a couple of days for his annual Christmas visit. The night before he flew back home, we exchanged Christmas gifts. We tend to be a family who doesn’t go over the top with these things, so I was understandably dumbfounded when I opened my gift from him: the entire 1973 Topps set (my birth year) in plastic sheets in a notebook. With a couple of very tiny exceptions, the whole thing is in mint or near mint condition.

He didn’t just go out and buy it in one shot, though, as a guy working at In-n-Out Burger tends not to have that kind of money laying around. Rather, he began picking up stuff here and there months ago (our childhood collection had almost no 1973s), trading some import records for some of this, trading vintage clothing for some of that, and only biting the bullet and straight-up buying stuff in only a handful of cases. It was truly a labor of love on his part which, given how much flak I’ve given him for so many things over the years — including, ironically enough, his habit for hording, selling, and trading records and vintage clothes when he could be out doing something more productive — was every bit as undeserved as it was unexpected.

As I sit here this evening poring over the notebook full of ’73s — highlights of which, at the risk of invading Josh Wilker’s turf, I plan to blog in the next couple of days* — I’m wondering why someone from whom I’ve grown so far apart over the years would make such a thoughtful and touching gesture, especially given how hard I’ve been on him. But I suppose that’s Christmas. I suppose that’s family. I suppose, most of all, that’s Curt.

Thanks, bro.

*I did, in fact, blog the 1973 set a few days later. It may be the most unintentionally hilarious baseball card set of all time.

Three A’s rookies hit their first big league home runs on Saturday

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The Athletics followed Friday’s 3-0 shutout with a rookie-led home run derby on Saturday afternoon, watching not one, not two, but three rookies belt their first major league home runs off of the White Sox’ James Shields.

Right fielder Matt Olson was the first to strike, taking Shields deep on a first-pitch, two-run blast in the first inning for his first home run in 49 major league plate appearances:

Fellow outfielder Jaycob Brugman duplicated his teammate’s results in the second inning with a solo home run, his first extra-base hit of any kind since he made his debut on June 9:

In the third, with a comfortable 4-0 lead backing two scoreless frames from Oakland right-hander Daniel Gossett, Franklin Barreto took his shot at Shields. After getting the call several hours prior to Saturday’s game, he became the fastest of the three rookies to record his first big league homer, going yard on a 2-2 changeup and driving in Bruce Maxwell to give the A’s a six-run advantage.

The Athletics currently lead the White Sox 8-2 in the top of the sixth inning.

Athletics call up top prospect Franklin Barreto

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The Athletics called up their top prospect on Saturday, inserting shortstop Franklin Barreto into the lineup for their second game against the White Sox. Barreto was originally scheduled to make his major league debut on Sunday, but got a head start after Jed Lowrie sustained a minor knee sprain in Friday’s 3-0 win and was scratched from Saturday’s lineup.

Barreto, 21, has been rapidly climbing the rungs of the A’s minor league system after getting dealt by the Blue Jays in 2014. He got his first taste of Triple-A action late last year, going 6-for-17 with three RBI and getting caught stealing in two attempts. He fared little better this spring, slashing .281/.326/.428 with eight home runs and a .754 OPS through his first 309 PA in Nashville.

While his minor league production has been solid, if underwhelming for a prospect of his caliber, the A’s are expected to give the rookie infielder a long leash with both Marcus Semien and Chad Pinder sitting on the disabled list. Pinder landed on the 10-day DL after suffering a left hamstring strain on Friday. Semien, meanwhile, is still working his way back from the 60-day DL with a right wrist fracture and likely won’t rejoin the team until he completes a rehab assignment with High-A Stockton.